Over seventy people from throughout the United States and four other countries gathered in Rudder Tower March 30 - April 2 for the 3rd Biennial Genetics of Maize-Microbe Interactions Workshop (GMMI).

Scientists from ten states in the U.S., as well as Germany, South Africa, Kenya and China participated in the workshop. Twelve Universities were represented as well as seven private biotech and seed companies and five different USDA agriculture research stations.

Dr. Seth Murray, Soil Crop Sciences Department; Dr. Wenwei Xu, Soil and Crop Sciences; and Dr. Mike Kolomiets, Plant Pathology and Microbiology served as the local hosts for the event. They worked in conjunction with scientists from North Carolina State University, the USDA-Agriculture Research Service in Starksville, Mississippi; and the University of Kentucky to develop the scientific program.

The workshop was designed to update researchers on progress being made in the field of maize-microbe interactions at the genetic level, as well as to foster collaborations between scientists in the academic, government and private sectors.


This year the major research emphasis focused on both pathogenic and beneficial microorganisms.

“The conference was extremely enlightening for both basic and applied researchers working in the genetics of maize and microbes,” stated Murray. “Many of the world leaders from industry, academia and the USDA made presentations or participated.”

“Cutting edge studies across diverse themes were made, including new genetics and breeding approaches, new methods of phenotyping, the molecular interactions underlying plant defense, and new approaches to characterize the plants microbial community,” Murray added.

“Work on reducing dangerous aflatoxin levels in corn was highlighted by several research groups, indicating the importance and recent advances on this issue,” said Dr. Marilyn Warburton of the USDA-ARS. “Many of the technological insights into resistance against the fungus that makes aflatoxin are now being moved towards farmer’s fields, where a high beneficial impact is expected in the near future.”

In addition to advances in aflatoxin research, progress in the fight against other diverse microbes including maize lethal necrosis disease, corn leaf blight, grey leaf spot was presented, as well as research involving beneficials such as nitrogen fixing bacteria.

Keynote speakers included: Dr. B.M. Prasanna, Director, Global Maize Program, CIMMYT & CGIAR Research Program on Maize, from Nairobi, Kenya; Dr. Randy Wisser, University of Delaware; Mingliang Xu, National Maize Improvement Center of China; the team from the USDA ARS Corn Host Plant Resistance Research Unit at Mississippi State University under Dr. Paul Williams, and Dr. Rebecca Nelson, Cornell University.

GMMI was first held in 2011, hosted by the University of North Carolina, with the second event hosted by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2013.

The workshop is made possible by contributions from Monsanto, AgBiome, Agreliant, KWS (a German seed company), the National Corn Growers Association and Texas A&M University’s Root Rhizosphere Interface, which is part of the COALS Grand Challenge Program.

Public research funded by NSF, USDA-NIFA, USDA-ARS, the Aflatoxin Mitigation Center of Excellence (AMCOE), Texas AgriLife Research, among others, was highlighted to demonstrate the startling fundamental discoveries and impressive applied plant improvement being made to address emerging food security threats.

In addition to the oral presentations, nearly 30 research posters were presented by scientists and graduate students.  The poster competition committee was chaired by Peter Balint-Kurti, USDA-ARS, North Carolina State University.

Steve Anderson, a Soil and Crop Sciences Ph.D. student under Dr. Seth Murray, placed first in the student poster contest. Second went to Tyr Wiesner-Hanks, a PhD student in Plant Pathology/Plant Breeding under Rebecca Nelson at Cornell University, with Pei-Cheng Huang, a Ph.D. student in Plant Pathology under Dr. Michael Kolomiets at TAMU, placing third.